Avoid End-of-Life Healthcare Risks and Pain

Avoid End-of-Life Healthcare Risks and Pain

Editor’s note: this is the second post in a two-part series. The first post appeared in my blog on January 18th.

4 Proactive steps to spare your family from unnecessary pain.

My husband is a risk taker. Me? Not so much. I want to do all I can to prepare for and shield myself and my loved ones from the scary possibilities that lurk in life’s shadows. Life insurance, disability insurance, medical insurance, home owner’s insurance…There’s a whole industry designed to mitigate life’s risks through insurance. Though an event might occur, insurance helps us cope with the aftermath of a trauma.

Avoiding end-of-life risks through insurance

How do you plan to manage your end-of-life risks?

The process of dying has hidden risks for the patient and for family members. As described in my last post, in the absence of clear healthcare instructions from the patient expressing her treatment preferences, conflicts can erupt between siblings over care for Mom. Terrified family members opt to “do everything possible” to save Mom, especially if no one—or the wrong person—has been named as the healthcare agent. But then Mom lingers in the ICU, hooked up to machines that she never wanted. Dad’s modest income can’t shoulder the huge hospital bills that eventually arrive in the mail. There’s pain for everyone. Emotional trauma lingers for those left behind.

A bit of preparation can reduce end-of-life risks for you and your loved ones.

By preparing a plan for your future and end-of-life healthcare decisions, you can protect yourself and your loved ones from unnecessary pain and conflict. Think of completing these 4 steps  as an insurance policy against the end-of-life risks you can avoid.

Step #1 – Describe your detailed treatment preferences.

A University of Michigan research study showed that 84% of adults want less invasive medical treatments at the end of life. You’ve likely heard—or maybe even said—”I don’t want any heroic or extraordinary measures.” Such broad phrases are not sufficient to truly guide your decision-makers. Checked boxes on a boilerplate form won’t be enough either.

To avoid the hazard of being hooked up to machines or receiving undesired CPR that could merely prolong the dying process, make your wishes crystal clear in a written healthcare directive. A meaningful healthcare directive includes thoughtful treatment guides that set boundaries for your care, statements of values and beliefs that should govern any decisions made on your behalf, and an explanation of your needs for emotional and spiritual care.

Step #2 – Choose the right decision-makers, called your healthcare agents.

Carefully consider who has the skills and strength of character to zealously serve as your proxy for your medical decisions if at some future time you are unable to speak for yourself. While you might instinctively choose your spouse or eldest child, he or she might not be prepared and equipped to honor your wishes in a crisis. Choose a primary healthcare agent, and have a second and even third agent as backup. Once you have chosen your decision-makers, be sure to legally empower your chosen agents by completing a healthcare power of attorney as part of your healthcare directive.

To avoid the hazard of your preferences being ignored, select your healthcare agent(s) wisely and make certain these decision-makers have agreed to serve in this vital role.

Step #3 – Communicate your wishes.

You can help your loved ones and chosen agents be prepared to honor your wishes by ensuring they truly understand your preferences. Moreover, your thoughtfully written instructions will offer incredible support if decisions are ever required. Organize a family meeting to share your choices. Walk through your healthcare directive decisions, including your rationale. Even if loved ones don’t agree, they are more likely to honor your choices if they can understand the “why.”

To avoid the hazard of family battles over decisions for your care, prepare your family by proactively communicating your medical treatment preferences.

Step #4 – Confirm your doctor will honor your wishes.

Schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider(s) to walk through your preferences. Explore your concerns. Ask questions. Make certain your healthcare provider has a copy of your healthcare directive in your medical chart. You’ll be pleased to know that beginning in 2016, Medicare will reimburse your physician for this important conversation with you. That reduces possible out-of-pocket cost to you.

To avoid the hazard of your healthcare team administering too few or too many treatments, ask your provider if he or she is willing to follow your instructions.

Plan your journey so that the journey can follow your plan. By confidently knowing your wishes are being honored, those who are caring for you will experience less emotional angst. Your family won’t be left to guess or argue over treatment decisions. Unexpected hospital bills won’t devastate those you leave behind. Leaving this world gently will be part of your lasting legacy.

Will your loved ones have the right answers?

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